Here’s where the problem begins:
THE VETERANS’ CARE GAP
There are 27 million discharged warriors—veterans, reserves and National Guard— in the U.S. More than 78% of veterans and most service members—21.3 million men and women—do not find health care at the VA, even though they have endured the physical and psychological trauma of that war, as well as a hazardous training environment.
Those who return with obvious disabling injuries are treated by the VA or DoD. But the VA—while it treats many veterans quite competently—rations care. There are a number of reasons for that, but most importantly, it’s a situation that is unlikely to change.
In the end, only about a third of our vets—and virtually none of their family members—receive treatment annually from the VA.
Many vets suffer from multiple chronic conditions:
Gulf War illness, hypertension and major depressive disorders, just to name a few.
These conditions affect a vast number of veterans, who—unlike most civilians—are often afflicted with a chronic set of connected issues, rather than individual ones.
This makes diagnosis and treatment especially difficult for any practitioner unfamiliar with the unique medical issues of this vulnerable population. It also plays havoc with vets’ families, who not only live with their loved ones’ afflictions, but often must provide care.
So who is treating 70% of the nation’s discharged warriors?
The answer is simple: the same civilian, insurance-supported medical systems the rest of us use.
But veterans cannot be treated like most civilians.
A vet suffering from Gulf War Illness may display any combination of symptoms that could include abnormal weight loss, fatigue, cardiovascular disease, muscle and joint pain, headache, menstrual disorders, neurological and psychological problems, skin conditions, respiratory disorders, and sleep disturbances.
And civilian providers aren’t prepared to treat veterans.
When a 42-year old woman walks into a doctor’s office complaining of fatigue, menstrual disorders and sleep disturbances, the doctor may treat her for each of those symptoms. What the doctor may not treat or test her for is the Gulf War illness for which those complaints could be symptomatic. Why? Because most health care providers have no training in veterans’ health and don’t even know who the veterans in their practices are.
Over 10 million healthcare and supportive service providers in the civilian community have quantifiable capability gaps in serving the military and veteran communities.
Both individually and organizationally, healthcare providers don’t screen for veterans, don’t recognize veterans, don’t understand the culture of veterans, and don’t receive training in treating veterans’ unique health issues. This despite the fact that about one in four of their patients is likely to be a veteran or a veteran’s immediate family member. 25% of the U.S. population are service members, veterans or immediate family. The vast majority of those people—93%—are not receiving health care that fits their unique needs.